Monday, May 11, 2009

Desirée Strand, as remembered by her sister

Justine Strand, an associate professor at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., wrote to the Society of Professional Obituary Writers about the obituary she wrote for her sister Desirée Strand.

In her email message, Justine wrote: I believe the obituary is far more important than any service. I wanted people who never knew my sister to read the obit and say, "What a fascinating and beautiful woman. I wish I could have known her."

I believe Justine has succeeded in her mission. Here's her sister's obit. What do you think?

Desirée Strand

In a parallel universe, Desirée Strand is planning a 54th birthday bash in Paris this July with her closest friends. In the limited dimension we inhabit, she died April 30, 2009 in Durham after years of ever-worsening multiple sclerosis (MS), blessed with dementia that made her unaware of the ravages of the disease.

Born Linda Joan Strand in Ridgecrest, California, she was a genius who defied convention. A willowy strawberry blonde, she was a talented pianist so fluent in French that Parisians never guessed she was American.

Her passion was exobiology, the study of life on other planets. She enjoyed brief success as a science writer until her career was cut short by MS.

She loved Mars, and wrote in Astronomy in December 1983: “Although the existence of water in liquid form on the martian surface is highly improbable at present, that does not exclude the possibility that it may exist either as ice or water vapor.” In May 2008 elated scientists reported that the Phoenix spacecraft had found ice on Mars.

In the June 1984 issue of Astronomy she warned that NASA’s decision not to sterilize the Galileo probe might result in contamination of the planet with terrestrial anaerobic bacteria. In 2003 NASA crash-landed Galileo into Jupiter to avoid the risk of contaminating Jupiter’s ice-covered moon Europa with earthly microbes.

She counted among her friends and colleagues Carl Sagan and Jacques Vallee (fictionalized as the character portrayed by François Truffaut in Close Encounters of the Third Kind). Vallee granted her a rare interview which was published in the then-obscure MUFON Journal in May 1988; he liked it so much he republished it in the paperback version of his book Dimensions: a casebook of alien contact.

Linda asked to change her name to Desirée as MS began to destroy her mental functioning, perhaps memorializing the shift from the person she was. Among her last words were “MS is not me.”

An important focus of her life was Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism, which she practiced from her teen years until MS made her unable to recall how to chant Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo.

Desirée was predeceased by her mother, Arlene Strand.

She is survived by her father, Neall Strand of Durham, sisters Justine Strand of Durham and Jane Hoffman of Bremerton, Washington; nieces Hailey Hoffman of Washington, DC, Miranda Jackson and grand niece Olivia Jackson of Bremerton, Washington; brother in law Jasiel de Oliveira and nephew Jackson de Oliveira of Durham.

A memorial gathering of family and friends is tentatively planned for June. Arrangements by the Cremation Society of the Carolinas. Online condolences @


Carolyn Gilbert said...

Justine Strand's elequent obituary memory of her sister Desiree is an example of how meaningful an obituary can be. We now know Desiree not only through her sister's eyes but also through the eyes of those who valued her professional contributions. And the word picture of the birthday celebration that was not to be also gave us yet another dimension of this interesting and talented woman.. Yes, I wish I had known her. Thanks for the memories, Justine.

Carolyn Gilbert

Marilyn Johnson said...

I would have loved to have known her.